The year following the 1906 earthquake was one of the most remarkable periods in Santa Rosa’s history – but you wouldn’t know that from reading the local newspapers.
From both the Press Democrat and Republican we see only glimpses of how drastically life was interrupted during this patch, such as what shoppers must have endured with all of Fourth Street turned into a construction zone (not to mention a dangerous obstacle course). Only a year later was it finally mentioned in the papers that most professional offices had been operating out of a shantytown at Mendocino and 5th Street.
There can be little doubt that both newspapers intentionally kept quiet about such details. The earthquake had brought to Santa Rosa the national spotlight that boosters always craved, and the last thing they wanted was for out of town papers to reprint disparaging news that the downtown core of the City of Roses was no better than a muddy, plank-sidewalk mining camp. Instead, it was claimed over and again that progress was seen everywhere and rebuilding was proceeding “nicely.” So relentless was the cheerful spin that had flying saucers from the planet Mulduhr descended and swept away all the children, the papers doubtless would have boasted that Santa Rosa sidewalks were free of annoying orange peels and that exciting career opportunities had opened up for fruit and hops picking.
But despite these dry pages, I always looked forward to reading the next edition of the Press Democrat after I discovered my guilty pleasure: Dorothy Anne, Society Gossip.
“Dorothy Anne” – real name unknown to me (read update here) – began writing about two months after the quake, and her first column recounted her origins, as she and (presumably) editor Ernest L. Finley strolled downtown:
When I was asked to do the society work on this paper I looked up at my interrogator in amazement. It was just two days after the quake. There was no paper and no society. “But,” I exclaimed, “there is nothing to work with.” “There will be,” he replied, as we continued our walk through the burned district
Whether by Finley’s instructions or her own inclinations, Dorothy Anne steered clear of writing directly about post-earthquake issues, alas. Nonetheless, she was a good observer of her social world, and soon became something of Santa Rosa’s own Pepys. (The analogy is apt; Pepys was famously indifferent to disaster when he saw the beginnings of the 1666 Great Fire of London from his bedroom window, shrugged, and went back to sleep.) The digirati set can think of her as the town’s first blogger, albeit typeset.
My favorite Dorothy Anne columns are the ones that appeared that summer, where she recounted imaginary (or not?) conversations over afternoon tea that included herself, the “Matron,” and the “Sarcastic Girl.” In an offering transcribed below, it’s revealed that there were an estimated one hundred social groups for women in Santa Rosa, a town with a population of only 10,000. Yet despite all that elbow-rubbing, they still were bored to tears. They griped that men didn’t like to socialize with them and the women-only party scene was a grind. So monotonous was their social life that another column found them waxing enthusiastic about a near-legend “ghost party” from 18 months earlier (which actually sounded as if it was sort of Goth). “Card parties, card parties, card parties,” complained the girl, “until the sight of an ace of any suit puts you to sleep.”
“No wonder we get blase before the winter is over,” said the Matron. “It’s a case of too much sameness. Why, sitting at the same tables on the same chairs and with the same cards, from one end of the season to the other we play the same game with the same good and the same bad players, say the same inane things, eat the same refreshments arranged and served just the same way on the same trays, give the same prizes…”
Dorothy Anne wrote less about her “little afternoon affairs” with the Matron and friends once the abbreviated social season began in August and she finally had something more newsworthy to cover than doings at the town’s roller rink. By then she also had the confidence to toss out bits of her opinions with her gossip. “Good men often make politics, but politics seldom makes good men, in my opinion,” she mused that month. “Women as a rule are very poor politicians. They are, a great many of them, natural intrigues, but few can plan and plot and think about it for six months or a year and not tell some one how its going to be.” And then she wrapped up her column with notice that the Fork Club met and Mrs. Woodward took home the fork that day.
Her talents as a writer were limited (as if you couldn’t tell), which sometimes made columns unintentionally funny. Items often could be dismissed as “catty,” although I mostly disagree; it seems more that she didn’t really care if she was liked or not, which is an admirable quality in a real journalist. But her weak writing skills undermined her. When the rival Republican (re)started its own society column, “Our Social Affairs by Madame Trice,” Dorothy Anne penned a welcome that may come across as snide and condescending; but read it again to find sentiment and introspection revealed. Here her flaw was being inartful more than mean-spirited:
“Madame Thrice [sic], I welcome you into the uncertain field of journalism. I should judge that you, like myself, are one of the products of the quake. I might mention, quite incidentally, that I recognize you. In fact I had to read but a few lines before your identity flashed before me, and my mind traveled back many years ago, and I saw two small girls wending their way to school together. In those days both you and I had high ambitions. You were scheduled to be a High School teacher, and I a missionary. What would our Alma Mater say, I wonder, if she realized that we were devoting the result of her training to writing complimentary squibs about our society people?”
But there are other columns that are indisputably cruel or snobbish, and there’s no defending her honor there. My alternative theory about Dorothy Anne is that she really was an insufferable snoot who sadistically took pleasure in insulting her neighbors. In this scenario, Ernest Finley gave her the job of society editor so this unlikeable scorn had to be invited to a party if the hostess wanted to be mentioned in the newspaper. Finley apparently didn’t socialize much, himself; maybe Dorothy Anne was his unwitting agent for tormenting the farm town sophisticates who took on airs.
…When I was asked to do the society work on this paper I looked up at my interrogator in amazement. It was just two days after the quake. There was no paper and no society. “But,” I exclaimed, “there is nothing to work with.” “There will be,” he replied, as we continued our walk through the burned district. The paper has readjusted itself–at least partially–but society has not. It will probably be some time before any one will feel able physically or financially to give a party. I for my part, think things should soon commence to resume their former tenor. We can’t go on always without any social life, so I hope soon to see the ice broken and some social functions take place…– “Society Gossip” column, Press Democrat, June 17, 1906
“What we need is originality,” said the matron.
“What we need more is individuality,” said the pretty girl.
“What’s the discussion about, ladies?” said I, as I joined a quartet of well-known society women seated around a very pretty tea table the other afternoon. It was one of those informal little afternoon affairs that happen frequently, and where are expounded a great many bright and original ideas.
“Our discussion was on the time-worn subject of how we were to avoid becoming blase in society,” replied the Matron.
[“]People haven’t had much chance to become a victim of ennui in Society lately, have they?” asked the Sarcastic Girl.
“No, but why?” asked the Pretty Girl. “There hasn’t been enough going on to warrant unpacking our party clothes.”
“Yet,” said I, “last week it looked as if things were really going to pick up.”
“Yes, and how?” said the Engaged Girl. “Card parties, card parties, card parties, until the sight of an ace of any suit puts you to sleep.”
“No wonder we get blase before the winter is over,” said the Matron. “It’s a case of too much sameness. Why, sitting at the same tables on the same chairs and with the same cards, from one end of the season to the other we play the same game with the same good and the same bad players, say the same inane things, eat the same refreshments arranged and served just the same way on the same trays, give the same prizes–“
“To the same people,” interjected the Sarcastic Girl as she calmly reached for another lump of sugar.
“Now, wouldn’t that list of sameness make anyone blase by the end of the season?” continued the Matron. “If we could only have some original parties this winter! We have had them. Don’t you remember Mrs. Ed Merritt’s ghost party?”
“Just one objection to that party,” said the Engaged Girl. “No men.”
“That didn’t worry anybody but you,” said the Sarcastic Girl.
“What a party that was!” said the Matron, “How funny some of the girls did look! And do you remember what a shout of joyous laughter went up when dominoes was known to be the game of the evening?”
“Yes,” said I, “and do you also remember how there were not more than three in the assemblage who knew how to play a game of dominoes, and how Mrs. Merritt had to reveal her identity in explaining the game?”
“Yes.” sighed the Engaged Girl. “I remember I didn’t know how. And I didn’t learn until the evening was almost over.”
“Then Mrs. Marvin Vaughan gave an advertising party,” said the Matron, “and it was a great success, and Willie Finley’s musical parties were always delightful and generally had some original features.”
“The Irene Club usually manages to do something that shows individuality. Maybe they will start the ball rolling this year,” said I.
“I don’t see how we can be original or individual in our parties when times are so hard,” said the Matron.
“Don’t use your pocket book; use your brains,” said the Pretty Girl, in reply.
“We might go back to husking bees and quilting parties,” said I. “Or we might organizing an old-fashioned singing school. We might even dig up tiddle de-winks, [sic] or ping pong, or arrange a few spelling matches, We might give literary parties–“
“Stop her, somebody, before I faint!” cried the Matron. “Imagine the most of our men at a literary evening! How they would enjoy it! One of those evening, say, when you are called upon to guess the names of authors from about three-quarters of an unheard-of quotation.[“]
“But the men don’t really care for card parties,” said the Engaged Girl. “Only the married ones ever get a chance to see whether they would like them or not,” here spoke up the Sarcastic Girl.
“Well,” said the Matron, “we used to invite the young men, but they have treated us so unpolitely we simply have had to leave them out. They ignore our cards when we send them, they never call on us after a party, and they never entertain. They seem to have no sense of obligation. Why, I gave a party last winter and invited them all. All came, but do you know, only one has even so much as intimated in any way, shape or form that he owed me a call, and he mentioned it on the street.”
“I remember an awful nice party,” said the Pretty Girl, “and although it started with cards, after refreshments we guessed the names of musical selections played by Bud Parks.”
“Oh, you did?” said the Sarchastic Girl.
“Well,” said the Matron, “I must be going home. I have a husband who fortunately enjoys my society. We will have to all put our brains to work this winter and try to break the monotony of our social life.”
Yes, we all chimed in together, as we arose to leave, “we must have some original parties this winter.”– “Society Gossip” column, Press Democrat, August 12, 1906
“She said she didn’t believe women ever got as foolish over anything as men do when they get the lodge fever,” remarked the matron.
“What is the discussion, ladies,” I asked, as I seated myself and accepted a cup of tea.
“Not much of a discussion,” replied the pretty girl as she passed me the sugar. “She was simply repeating the remarks of one of our society leaders upon the time-worn subject of ‘Why men become so devoted to lodges.’
“One has but to see a few of their homes to know why,” said the sarcastic girl.
“Are men more devoted to their lodges than we are to our clubs?” I queried.
“Not at all,” replied the matron. “I’ll venture to say none of you have ever enumerated the women’s clubs and lodges in this town. Let’s try and see how many we can name. I’ll begin. First of all there are the churches. There are fourteen churches in town and say there is an average of three women’s societies to a church. There you have a starter of forty-two societies to commence with. We have the card clubs, including the Married Ladies Club, the Book Club, the Cup and Saucer, the Fork Club, the Third Street Club, the McDonald Avenue Club and the College Avenue Club. These last two have not played this season yet, I believe, but”–
As she paused for breath, the pretty girl came to her rescue. “Yes, but they will later!” she said.
“Then,” continued the matron, “there are the literary clubs, too, of which there are several. These include the Saturday Afternoon Club, the Irene, the Starr King Club, the Shakespeare Club, the Philomath Club and the Teachers’ Club.[“]
“Yes,” I added. “There are the sewing clubs headed by the Cozy Corner Club, and followed by the Saiho Gakko, then the T. J. E.’s, the D’s D’s and the Thimble Club.”
“I don’t think the the T. J. E.’s are a Sewing Club,” ventured the pretty girl.
“They used to be, when they were little girls, and made fancy articles to sell for sweet charity’s sake,” said the matron. “Everybody keep still while I try to think of the lodges. They are the Eastern Star, the Court of the Amaranth, the Rebekahs, Ladies of the Maccabees, Daughters of Pocohantas, Companions of the Forest, Ladies of the Grand Army, German Ladies Aid Society, Royal Neighbors and–“
“Shades of our Ancestors!” said the sarcastic girl. “Don’t tell me you know any more!”
“Yes,” I replied, “there are more, for the ladies share jointly the lodges of the Fraternal Brotherhood, the Grange, the Linnean Society and the Short Story Club.”
“Then,” remarked the matron, “there is the Ladies Improvement Club, the Woman’s Relief Corps, and the one musical club, the Etude, now a section of the Saturday Afternoon Club.”
“How many does that make, any way?” suggested I timidly.
“Nearly eighty, including church societies, and we have probably omitted a third–the small clubs,” continued the matron. “It will be safe to say there are one hundred women’s clubs, lodges and societies in the town. No wonder the men are advocates of lodges! They could hardly be expected to do anything else with that example set them.”
[..]– “Society Gossip” column, Press Democrat, September 16, 1906